“Artemis Fowl” is slapdash, snoozy, and stuck in the early 2000s

Artemis Fowl Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, and Ferdia Shaw in Artemis Fowl. (Disney)

The adaptation of the first in Eoin Colfer’s series is alarmingly messy for a project that’s been in the works for almost two decades.

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Released in 2001, Eoin Colfer’s novel Artemis Fowl immediately caught studios’ attention. Miramax was in the mix to make a movie, but alas, that didn’t happen. Instead, it sat in development hell for over a decade, with seven more books in the series coming out in the interim. A slew of supplementary material rounded out the edges for fans. The Harry Potter series tied itself up; the Hobbit trilogy came and went. So just where is this adaptation now?

Well, despite it now being 2020, it seems to still be stuck somewhere in the early aughts. No, it isn’t because of the elves, and no, it isn’t because of the fairies. You know what it’s more due to instead? Uncannily saturated CGI vistas populated by precocious characters, that’s what! And despite what Disney originally intended as a theatrical release, this $125 million production has been all-too fittingly moved over to streaming on Disney+ due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Perhaps that’s for the better. This isn’t the sort of thing that many would particularly enjoy seeing in a theater, much less enjoy shelling out a few stacks of cash in order to bring the whole family along. And the reason is simple: it’s incoherent. On one hand, there’s the wall-to-wall exposition in which everyone speaks. On the other hand, there’s the story these poor characters try to push forward, explaining each world and plot detail so bluntly that it holds the audience farther away than were the film to not even explain anything at all.

The tale begins with a crowd of reporters buzzing around the Fowl Manor, where Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell) has been linked to a swath of stolen relics. There, a Hagrid cosplayer doing a Batman voice—ahem—an oversized dwarf named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) gets arrested. It’s from his interrogation room that he briefs the viewer on child prodigy Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw). Chess, architecture, goat cloning—he can do it all. Hopefully can also find Dad, who’s now gone missing at the hands of some shady mythical creatures.

But once the plot kicks into gear, the movie kicks its audience out of the way. For every new character, realm, or backstory, there are more and more minutes of thinly veiled explanations. Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl’s script never has any weight. It’s a basic story that’s overstuffed, compounded, and stretched back out, and by the time it reaches the screen, almost all of Artemis Fowl seems to have been chewed to a pulp.

The secret realm of fairies under the earth’s surface? There’s surprisingly little there. The fairies’ commander, Julius Root (Judi Dench)? There’s nothing to her, aside from a truly bizarre vocal performance. And the tech advisor who happens to be a centaur (Nikesh Patel)? He’s simply another reminder of the whackadoo tone Artemis Fowl never understanding about itself, and unfortunately, every other character just further hurts what little focus the movie had to begin with. In the event that something does stick out—like, say, the goblin enemies in hoodies and gold chains—it’s misguided to say the least.

[Branagh is] on autopilot and swallowed by the studio machine here, his final product with nothing resembling a true or coherent vision.

Maybe a more inspired director would liven things up a bit. Instead, Disney brought Kenneth Branagh into the mix after his efforts on the MCU’s first Thor movie and 2015’s live-action Cinderella. The issue, though, isn’t that Branagh is a particularly bad director; he’s serviceable on a good day. It’s that he’s both on autopilot and swallowed by the studio machine here, his final product with nothing resembling a true or coherent vision. He and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos cake each setting in saturated CG colors, and while this could have heightened the world, it just presents it as tacky and artificial.

One unfamiliar with Colfer’s source material is unlikely to have much if anything to hold on to. Hell, this thing is less than 89 minutes excluding credits, and it’s still a pretty tough sit. That said, it’s even tougher to imagine just how disappointed Fowl fans will be. This movie originally meant to launch a franchise after almost two decades. Suffice it to say that’s unlikely to happen here, and maybe that’s for the best.

Artemis Fowl is now streaming on Disney+.

Artemis Fowl Trailer:

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